Guide to Dog Walking and Leash Training

16 April 2021 - 3 min read

This article was written for the United States market and the advice provided may not be accurate for those in the United Kingdom.

Whether you have a young, curious puppy or an adult dog who races to the door when they see a leash in your hand, taking your furry friend for a walk is likely one of the best parts of their day — and yours.

But regular dog walks are about more than just basic exercise (and letting your four-legged friend do their  business). Exploring the neighborhood or a favorite trail is also critical for your dog’s physical, social and emotional wellbeing, says Alison Schramel, certified professional dog trainer and animal behavior and training supervisor for the Animal Humane Society.

“Most people think of the physical benefits of walking your dog, like preventing pet obesity and maintaining joint health,” Schramel says. “[But] getting outside and smelling new things, seeing new people and places and hearing new sounds [is also] good for their emotional health and beneficial for socialization.”

Dog on leash looking up at parent

What Age Should You Start Leash Training a Puppy?

Since teaching your dog leash manners is so essential, training should start as soon as you bring home your pet.

“The earlier you start leash training your dog, the better,” says Jennifer Gardner, owner and chief dog walker at Platinum Paws Pet Services LLC and member of the board of directors for the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.

In the beginning, your dog’s harness and leash may be unfamiliar to them (especially if you have a puppy). To make leash training fun, offer treats and lots of praise whenever you clip on your dog’s harness or attach the leash, Gardner says.

Let your puppy walk around the house wearing the leash to help them  get used to it, offering lots of positive reinforcement throughout. This will ensure they grow up associating good things with wearing her leash.

Puppyhood is also the best time to start teaching hand signals and basic commands. Schramel notes that basics like “sit” and “stay” are especially useful for waiting at crosswalks or stopping to talk to a passerby during walks.

Dog on leash chasing tennis ball

Is a Collar or Harness Better for a Puppy?

Your puppy should wear a collar with ID tags at all times, but it’s best to clip their leash to a harness, not a collar.

“A collar puts all of the pressure on the neck when a dog pulls, [while] a harness evenly distributes the weight across their chests,” Gardner explains. “Plus, a collar can more easily slip off; a harness is more secure.”

A 2020 study published by the British Veterinary Association found that collars can exert pressure on the neck when your dog pulls, resulting in injuries. Researchers recommended using a harness instead. Fortunately, if you start training your dog to walk with a harness during puppyhood, they’ll be comfortable wearing it for the rest of their  life.

Dog with harness and leash

When Do I Need to Hire a Dog Walker?

Some dogs do well with a single walk in the morning or evening while others need longer or more frequent walks, which might be difficult to squeeze into your day. Hiring a dog walker can help.

“If your dog is very high energy or needs more mental stimulation or physical exercise than you have time for, you should consider a dog walker,” Schramel says.

Dog walkers are also an excellent idea for puppies that need frequent midday potty breaks.

Most Common Dog Walking Mistakes

To get the most out of your walks, avoid these common dog walking mistakes:

  • Jerking up on the leash: Schramel cringes when she sees pet owners jerking on their dog’s leash. Not only could it cause injuries (especially if you’re walking your dog on a collar instead of a harness), but jerking the leash can  confuse the dog. “They may not know what they’re doing wrong,” she adds. If there’s a behavior that needs to be corrected, stop walking and give the dog a command (like “sit”) to break the undesirable behavior. Then offer positive reinforcement when the dog  obeys the new command and start walking again.

  • Using a retractable leash: Retractable leashes have been linked to a host of issues, including breakage that allowed dogs to get loose. Schramel also notes that the extra-long length means your dog is often too far ahead (or behind) for you to address leash reactivity or reward them for loose leash walking.

Dog and parent with leash

The biggest mistake you can make? Skipping out on walks with your dog. Without the physical and mental stimulation a walk provides, your dog could become bored and destructive, says Gardner. You may also miss out on important bonding benefits.

“Walking is a form of quality time that creates a stronger bond with your dog and gives you a chance to reinforce training and socialization,” she says. “Whether you go for a quick walk around the block or a long hike it’s really important to walk your dog.”

Jodi Helmer is a freelance journalist who writes about pets, food, gardening, farming, the environment, and sustainable living. Jodi's work has appeared in Entrepreneur, Hemispheres, Civil Eats, National Geographic Traveler, and more.